Shanah tovah

For me, fall is always a special time. Not only does September indicate a new school year but the Jewish New Year often coincides with this time, clearly opening the door to new beginnings and possibilities. Reflecting on this, I can’t help but think about how the excitement that I feel about such predictable events is, in actuality, about the unforeseen and unimagined.

As I reflect on this, I think about my grandfather and how he left us not only material goods but an ethical will as well. In it, he encouraged us to seek out knowledge, explore spirituality, treasure family, be ethical, and to think for ourselves. And, most importantly, he encouraged us to always hope for a better life: to make every personal effort to improve ourselves and others through love and diligence in order to make the world somewhat better for our having been here.

Standing on my back patio, drinking in the cool night’s air, my mind and eye drift to the mezzuzah that hangs upon the door to my house. Wondering to myself why this particular relic of Judaica is so important to me, I came to the following conclusion:

The mezuzah rests silently
Waiting to usher the goddess of love through her doors
Enveloping her home
And hearts that lie within

With a warm embrace
Allowing shuttered defenses
To open wide
Making the soul visible as fears fly apart
Potential created
Joy abounds

Ultimately, I decide, the mezuzah is a physical representation of all of the lessons that my grandfather gave me, both during his lifetime and after, a collection of wisdom that if adhered to can lead to a life well lived.

As I share these ideas with my son in a slow progression over the years, it’s my hope that he will absorb their messages into the very fiber of his being and use them as a guideline when crafting his life so that even when he falters, he’ll have an innate compass by which he can redirect himself onto a path that is at once expansive and fulfilling, building a solid path to my grandfather’s dream that the world become a better place.

 

 

Marriage and intimacy

During the 2010 Olympics I was lucky enough to obtain a ticket to the pairs figure skating competition. I was initially disappointed when the event began as I hadn’t realized that I would be watching twenty pairs perform the same routine over and over again. After watching many of the couples perform, however, I began to see the beauty in the repetition, noticing that the couples who were most magical were not necessarily the ones  always in sync. Instead, it was the couples that fell out of step with one another while maintaining their connection who were most appealing. For it was in viewing the stronger partner unhesitatingly and unflinchingly carry the faltering one that the intimacy between the two was most visible, providing a peek behind the curtain into the deeper bond that enables two distinct individuals to separate and come back together in a unified dance that’s all the stronger for a misstep.

Over time, I reflected on this hidden beauty, struck by how it paralleled the relationships that I know and most admire.  And so, when presented with the opportunity to get married to someone who loved me, I turned him down, knowing that our relationship did not meet the litmus test that I had set for myself.

When my son, who also loved this man, asked me why I wouldn’t marry him, I gently explained that I believe that marriage is like a puzzle. Whereas you can sometimes force together two pieces that look as if they belong with one another, it’s a struggle and you always know that something’s not quite right, if not through the process then by the end result. On the other hand, when two pieces belong together, they gently nestle up against one another, falling together into place to create a picture that is more beautiful than either piece could create on its own, each unique part accentuating the other’s natural form to present it in a supportive and flattering light.

Having no desire to be the next Elizabeth Taylor, marrying repeatedly for an elusive but heady feeling that’s unsustainable in the long term, I’ve decided to save my last marriage chit for a relationship that is mutually supportive, allowing each of us to explore and express our dark and light in all their splendor while striving to become the best version of ourselves. And it’s my hope that as my son matures and falls in love, he’ll ultimately choose for himself a relationship in which he’s loved in spite of his flaws all the while being recognized for the work in progress that he is, supported during his mis-steps and throughout his attempts to make the most of who he is, while complementing his other in a dance that creates a long-lasting moment of truth that is beautiful for all of its work and imperfections.

Positively half full

Some days I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. On these mornings, my first thoughts generally run along the lines of “I have so much to do today, I’m so tired, can’t I sleep for just ten more minutes, it’s raining out. Again.” As these thoughts flow through my head, dragging my spirit down, I physically propel my body out of bed and into the shower. As the water rains down on me, I try not to let the negativity overwhelm me, resisting the undertow that threatens to engulf me and cast a shadow upon my day.

And then, inevitably, as I walk into my son’s room, listening to his squeals of delight as he talks to his brown and yellow bears, outlining his plans for the day, my spirits begin to lift. As I see his smiling face, radiating an expectation that only positive and good things will happen throughout the day, I am struck by how much our perception shapes our experience.

As a child, my mother tried to be positive. To this day, she thinks that she is a positive influence, emphasizing only the good. And, although she is supportive in terms of the bigger picture items, as an adult, some of my strongest memories are of her petty negativities that permeated our daily routine.

When I asked my brother if this was also his experience, he started to laugh. In response to my question, he reminds me of the times when my mother would inevitably pick the wrong line up in the supermarket and, as other shoppers in longer lines would be rung through first, begin to tap her foot in annoyance and complain under her breath, making the extra minutes not only feel longer but leaving a sour aftertaste our mouths that would bleed into our next activity.

And then I realized how much this all-pervasive negativity had become my own default mindset, occurring as if by generational osmosis. As a parent, I find myself in constant battle between the now innate negativity that I have absorbed and the parent that I want to be – positive, nurturing, and ever-hopeful.

Looking at my son, I see a clean slate. In his world, only the good exists. Snow coming down in white silver wet sheets is as fantastic as melting ice cream dribbling down his chin on a sunny summer afternoon. The world is new to him, unmarred by the scars of experience, each moment savored for its unexpected novelty and beauty.

And I know that if I can keep his rose colored glasses somewhat intact, he will always operate from a better vantage point. Since the ability to take pleasure in the world’s tiniest joys, from the gleam of a shiny green apple against a smooth slate brown plate to the warmth that a stranger’s smile generates, can make or break your day, having a constant perspective of the cup being half full means that the world seems infinitely more hopeful, with endless possibilities for delight around each and every corner. And, it is this expectation that often allows us to see the beauty that is otherwise hidden beneath life’s mundanity while allowing us to be open to its unlimited opportunities.

Having a posse

When I turned six, my family imploded. From the outside, we looked like a picture-perfect family: my mother was a stay-at-home mom and my dad was a university professor who was around most of the time. But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. Underneath the Cleaver exterior, the 70s political and social hippy revolution was alive and kicking in our home.

By the time I was eight, my parents were engaged in full-blown open relationships, my dad was openly bi-sexual, we had an anarchist press operating out of our basement, and my parents were constantly trying to convince me that it would be best if my brother and I were home-schooled, an event that was to take place in the idealized school bus that we would purchase and convert to tour across the country. In all reality, I was probably the only child who begged and pleaded to be allowed to go to school. For me, it and all the friends that I had there represented a haven of sanity.

When we reminisce about this time, my cousin constantly reminds me that it’s amazing that we all turned out so normal, functional and successful. And I can’t help but agree.

When I reflect on why things turned out this way, the only answer that I can come up with is that, no matter what, we always knew that we had a posse. Regardless of what crisis or upheaval we were experiencing, we always knew that when push came to shove, our parents would drop whatever insanity they had embroiled themselves in and be behind us one hundred percent. And, in spite of the myriad changes to our family constellation, this fact has remained strong and true to this day: I know that no matter what is happening in my parents’ and brother’s lives, and no matter what was said or done in the past, if I need them, they will be there for me, rearranging their lives to give me the physical and emotional supports that I need to get through a particularly difficult situation. This fact has proven true time and time again.

For myself, knowing that I am part of a unit that will circle the wagons in closed and protective ranks has created a deep-seated sense of security lasting well into adulthood. Fundamentally, I know that I am never alone. And, the adage of there being strength in numbers seems to hold true.

As a parent, I find myself consciously trying to create this same sense of security for my son. Although formally, from the outside looking in, it is currently just he and I, I find that this is not quite an accurate depiction of reality. By extending my notion of family to include not just blood relatives and immediate family, but all the people who care for and love us, I find that my son already has a sense of security in his place in the world, confident that if he needs help or assistance someone will be there to provide it. And, by fostering the conditions that allow him to be showered in various forms of love while maintaining the illusion that the world is going to love him for as long as possible, I believe that his equilibrium and ability to cope won’t be fundamentally rocked when he realizes that the world isn’t only a joyous place to be but often requires fortitude, resilience, strength and a belief in oneself to succeed.

Love

When my son was nine months old, he would play on the double futon I had installed in his room. For hours on end, he would stand up, hold on to the window ledge and then let go, spiraling into a free-fall. In the small span of time between letting go and landing, bouncing softly and comfortably into the mattress, a smile enveloped his face depicting his delight in being out of control while knowing that a safety net was firmly in place.

Watching him, my heart would race, aching for the naiveté and absolute trust required to capture that heedless sensation of wild abandon. It would make me remember how, when I was first taking ballet at the age of six or seven and, having recently fallen in love with the nutcracker, I would pirouette and jettée across my living room floor, convinced that I was experiencing a novel sensation of free-floating headiness that no one had previously experienced but, given the minutest chance, would do anything to.

And then it occurred to me. Falling in love is similar, without the safety net. My first experience of love was like being struck by a bolt of lightening. It came at me, unexpected but strong and sure, changing my chemical and genetic composition forever. It made me happier, nicer, and more loving in general.

At that time, it never occurred to me that things wouldn’t work out and that there wouldn’t be a happily ever after. When the relationship ended, my complete faith in fairy tale endings was destroyed.

Watching my son execute his spirals of innocently sinful delight, it occurs to me that love is much like his actions. Until you come up hard and fast against the realization that there is no safety net in place, you can abandon yourself completely and give your heart away on a silver platter as if an offering of delectable delight that’s impossible for anyone to refuse.

Once you realize that no one can guarantee a happily forever after ending and that, by definition, love and relationships are risky, you also realize that therein lies the magic. And, in a heartbeat, I realize that this is something that I want my son to learn.

Falling in love is part something that happens to you and part a conscious choice. When two people meet, and there is that spark and recognition of the other, there is often a point at which you have to decide to take a step and let go. The step may be small, but, once aware that a safety net doesn’t exist, it’s the hardest step you’ll ever take. It requires you to take a leap of faith built on vulnerability and hopefulness while trusting in something entirely intangible and out of your control. But, if you willingly suspend disbelief and open yourself up, the rewards are usually unexpected and unquantifiable.